Iain Stewart

The rise of an industry which has come to dominate the world is being explored in a documentary series fronted by a Plymouth University academic.

Planet Oil: The Treasure that Conquered the World is a three-part series presented by Iain Stewart, the University’s Professor of Geosciences Communication and Director of the Sustainable Earth Institute.

Being aired on BBC4 from Wednesday 7 October, the three-part series charts the early days of oil production in the mid-19th century, the rise of the oil barons, international battles for global control and the fundamental rewiring of geo-politics in the 20th century.

It also takes the story to the modern day and the technological breakthroughs which have extended the life of existing oilfields as well as the new unconventional and controversial oil and gas supplies, such as shale oil and tar sands.

Towards the end of the series, a free public event will take place at the University at which experts will debate the past, present and future impacts of the oil industry on the environment.

Professor Stewart says:

“Over the last 150 years we’ve become more and more dependent on this extraordinary resource. From the first moment we drew this stuff from the ground, we opened a Pandora’s Box that changed the world. It transformed the way we lived our lives, dictated the outcome of our worst global conflicts, became an obsession for some of our greatest leaders, and turned a simple natural resource into the most powerful political weapon the world has ever known. It has given us a lot but it has also come at a high price and over the course the three parts of the series we look at the global history of crude oil and how we have got to this point.”

This is the latest series Professor Stewart has worked on since his broadcasting career began in 2002, with previous productions including Journeys from the Centre of the Earth, Earth: The Power of the Planet, Volcano Live and Rise of the Continents.

He was appointed an MBE in the 2013 Birthday Honours for services to geology and science communication, and is an active member of many educational organisations and charities, both in the South West and in his native Scotland.

This latest series is particularly timely, airing just before the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference, which will further explore the impact of industry and energy production on the global environment.

Professor Stewart adds:

“This December, half a century on from when it all started in the North Sea, UK scientists, activists, business leaders, and politicians head to Paris for global negotiations on binding climate legislation. Many see it as a make-or-break event that will set the direction and pace of shifting to a low-carbon world. Given our past obsession with oil and gas, getting beyond petroleum will not be easy. Like any addiction, the carbon fix will be hard to kick. But what is on the horizon is clear – quite simply, the demise of the petroleum age.”

The first episode of Planet Oil: The Treasure that Conquered the World will be broadcast on Wednesday 7 October at 9pm on BBC4.

The public event - Planet Oil: The End of an Addiction? - will be hosted by the University’s Sustainable Earth Institute and take place on Monday 19 October in Plymouth University’s Devonport Lecture Theatre, starting at 6.30pm.

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